Friday, January 3, 2014

Inner Harbor 2.1 - An Alternative Harbor View

     The illustration above shows my distinctive harbor view.  It isn’t a professional photograph, but a simple iPhone picture snapped from my balcony overlooking Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
     I am a native of Baltimore.   I grew up near Cross Country Boulevard in the northwest part of town and later lived in Charles Village and Bolton Hill.  I have a master's degree in urban planning and have worked in the fields of historic preservation, transportation and planning for Baltimore City and the State of Maryland for 35 years.  Today my wife and I live in a condo at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
     When the Inner Harbor 2.0 plan was released in November 2013, I took a particular interest in it as a planner, local historian and Inner Harbor resident.  I was happy to see an updated plan for the Inner Harbor – something that hasn’t been put forward in a long time – but I can’t say that I am pleased with all the recommendations.
     I am disturbed by the section of the plan that calls for enlarging the Pier V Parking Garage, not only because it would impact my view, but because I feel strongly that the Inner Harbor should be for people not cars.  Building large above ground parking  facilities on waterfront property is absurd.  How can planners in good conscience recommend expanding such a garage?  How can they call for using a historic ship, the US Coast Guard Taney, a Pearl Harbor survivor, to screen parking areas and loading docks on Pier 4?  Did they even consider how veterans and visitors would visit this historic vessel?  How can planners recommend the removal of popular volley ball courts at Rash Field with only vague promises of relocating them elsewhere? 

      I feel an alternative harbor view is needed, so I produced my own.  I call it Inner Harbor 2.1, not only as an update of Inner Harbor 2.0, but a reminder that experts predict that the  Maryland’s sea level will increase 2.1 feet by 2050.  That is only 36 years away.  I will be 94, so it may not be my Inner Harbor problem, but it may be yours.

     This plan was produced quickly with relatively  modest tools.  It is based upon my own experiences and dreams of a better Baltimore.  It deals with land use, circulation, views, etc., but more than that  -- it deals with making the heart of Baltimore as special today as it was when the Inner Harbor began evolving when I was still in college.
     I wish to emphasize that the ideas put forward are mine alone and not those of any particular group, organization  or special interest.   If there are things in this plan you like, I encourage you to support them.  If you neither like my plan nor Inner Harbor 2.0, than I suggest you consider generating your own ideas and let the planners and public officials know how you feel.
     In many ways, this is an unfinished document.  Conditions change and our plans should change with them.  While we should look for inspiration elsewhere, we should remember that Baltimore was once a leader in waterfront redevelopment.  We can be a leader once again.  Future Inner Harbor improvements should have a distinctive Baltimore flavor retaining positive aspects of the past, while promoting a better tomorrow, transmitting “this city not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful  than it was transmitted to us.”*

Fred Shoken

* From:  Oath of the Athenian City State

Inner Harbor Plans and Opportunities

     This Inner Harbor 2.1 plan is both a response to the recently proposed Inner Harbor 2.0 plan and an effort to continue earlier planning concepts that produced Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a model redevelopment of an urban waterfront.  While  certain portions of the Inner Harbor are showing signs of poor maintenance, many of the original Inner Harbor concepts are valid and should be retained in current planning efforts. 

     As the above plan view illustrates, the original Inner Harbor plan extended the north shore of the harbor below Pratt Street creating development opportunities along the waterfront.  The plan included extending Pier 6 beyond its present boundaries.  It also planned for active recreational opportunities along the south shore.

The recently released Inner Harbor 2.0 plan integrates green infrastructure throughout the area in support of the Healthy Harbor initiative.  It includes living shorelines and the establishment of native plant communities that provide storm water management. 

     The 2.0 plan also calls for a pedestrian bridge that connects Rash Field to Pier 5 completing the circuit of the Waterfront Promenade and providing a  more direct connection between Inner Harbor East and Locust Point.
Another plan highlight would eliminate the diagonal traffic connection from Light Street to Calvert Street with a redesigned McKeldin Square connected directly to the  Harbor Place amphitheater.

     Yet the plan has also been subject to criticism for eliminating beach volley ball courts, relocating the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse, utilizing the historic  US Coast Guard Cutter Taney as a screen for a parking/loading area on the  east side of Pier 4 and expanding an existing parking garage along the waterfront, an incompatible use of a unique resource.

    While the Inner Harbor 2.0 plan calls for better connections to surrounding neighborhoods and new destinations to activate underutilized areas,  the delivery of such resources is up for debate.

Inner Harbor 2.1 Land Use

Inner Harbor Retail/Commercial Opportunities

    With the demise of the former downtown retail district at Howard and Lexington, Pratt Street at the Inner Harbor has become the major downtown retail/commercial center for Baltimore.  There is approximately 500,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space along Pratt Street from Light Street to Market Place including the Gallery, Harbor Place, Pier Four Power Plant and Lockwood Place.  Major retailers include:  Barnes and Noble, Brooks Brothers, Marshalls, Joseph Banks, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Coach, H&M, Urban Outfitters, etc.  Many perceive this retail center as being oriented to tourists, yet there is a growing population downtown that is in need of quality shopping.  Retailing at the Inner Harbor must focus on local residents as well as tourists. 

     The Inner Harbor 2.1 plan recommends revitalizing retailing at the Inner Harbor.  The Harbor Place Pavilions should emphasize local merchants, not just national chains.  The interior grand space of the Light Street pavilion has been broken up by blank walls of the Ripley’s Odditorium and some large retailers.  A suburban shopping mall atmosphere has replaced the original “festival marketplace” concept with many small retailers and eateries at kiosks.  The Light Street pavilion should be returned to its original design and use.  The Pratt Street pavilion should be reoriented to the outside with stores and restaurants being accessed from the promenade and along Pratt Street.  Interior stairs and corridors leading from Pratt Street to the promenade can be retained, but the east-west interior corridors should be eliminated.  Storefronts not blank walls should face the exterior.  The original historic maritime flags should be flown from the roof of both pavilions.  Additional pavilion type space can be built at McKeldin Square and along Pratt Street from the World Trade Center to the Columbus Center, some on infill at either side of the Pier Four Power Plant.  These retail spaces do not necessarily have to follow the Harbor Place design.  A large crab like structure could be built west of Phillips Seafood replacing and expanding the current “crab deck.”  An aquarium store designed consistent with the rest of the Aquarium complex could operate in a new retail space just east of the World Trade Center.

     The Gallery “mall” across from Harbor Place needs better management and a higher quality mix of stores (No Dollar Stores please!).  Next to the Gallery (on the old News American site) a major retailer, such as Target, could take up the first two levels, of a new development at that site with office and possibly parking above.  The Barnes and Noble space in the Power Plant should be converted into the “Baltimore Emporium” an open retail market place that emphasizes local products, crafts people,  sustainable food suppliers, etc.  Barnes and Noble can be relocated into the vacant former Best Buy space on the third level of Lockwood Place.  The “Baltimore Emporium” would function as part of the promenade.  Pedestrian traffic will be able to walk through the space and out to a new east side entrance/exit to additional infill retailing between Pier 4 & 5.  Parking would be removed from the east side of the Power Plant and loading consolidated in the southern section of the building (which could be accessed from an expanded bridge of Eastern Avenue to Pier 4).

      The infill retail space east of the Pier Four Power Plant will line up with Market Place and serve as a focal point between Pratt Street shopping and additional retailing opportunities on Market Place leading to Power Plant Live!   The first three levels of the Candler Building on Market Place should be converted into a major department store such a Macy’s, Lord & Taylor or Nordstrom.  The tent like space at the ground level of the Columbus Center should also be converted into a retail space.  This would have been a great location for the Under Armor brand store or a comparable facility.

     A revitalized retail corridor along Pratt Street from Light Street to Market Place will enliven and activate the Inner Harbor for visitors, downtown office workers and residents.  Pratt Street is accessible to mass transit, the circulator, many large parking garages, bikeways and foot traffic.  Major retail operators including Cordish, Ashkenazy, Brown, the current owners of the Gallery, and future retailers should form a cooperative marketing group to encourage shopping along the north side of the Inner Harbor for both visitors and Baltimore residents.

Inner Harbor Visitor/Special Event Opportunities

     The Aquarium, Maryland Science Center, Historic Ships and Pier Six Concert Center are the major visitor attractions at the Inner Harbor.  The Aquarium and Science Center have expanded many times since the inception of the Inner Harbor.  Pier 3 and the south end of Pier 4 should emphasize the aquarium with banners, distinctive landscaping, sculpture, etc.  The same is true with the Science Center at the southwest corner of the Inner Harbor.

     Currently maritime heritage sites are scattered along the waterfront.  With the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse as a potential attraction, the Lightship Chesapeake, Submarine Torsk and Coast Guard Cutter Taney should be relocated to the south end of Pier 5 & 6 along with the Lady Maryland, Minnie V and other sailing ships of the Living Classrooms.  This would create a critical mass of maritime attractions.  The Pride of Baltimore could also be docked at this location when in-town.  The Pride of Baltimore I memorial at Rash Field could be relocated to this vicinity possibly at the southern end of Pier 6, since a below grade parking facility is planned for Rash Field.  At the present time, much of the activity and emphasis at the Inner Harbor is focused near the intersection of Pratt and Light streets.  Creating a
Maritime Heritage Center at the south end of Pier 5 will encourage visitors to see all of the Inner Harbor and help connect the Inner Harbor to Harbor East and Fells Point.

     Revitalizing the Pier 6 Concert Center will also spread activities out throughout the Inner Harbor.  The Pier 6 “tent” was last reconstructed in 1991.  At the time, it was reported to have a guaranteed 20 year lifespan.  That lifespan has been surpassed.  The concert center should be redesigned to allow access to the south end of Pier 6, which is now fenced off from the general public.  Moving the concert pavilion to align with the Pier 5 Hotel and the southern edge of Eastern Avenue will provide a more distinguished entrance for the center.  Moving the stage to the north will create a larger lawn that could be enjoyed both during concerts and as a passive recreational space when concerts are not in session.  The lawn could be further expanded  by extending the pier to align with the marina at Harbor East.

Inner Harbor Recreation Opportunities
     The Inner Harbor will have four major recreational spaces:  Rash Field, West Shore Park, expanded Pierce’s Park on Pier 5 & 6 and the Pier 6 Concert Center lawn.

     An expanded Rash Field will be reconstructed over a below grade parking facility which will replace the current parking deck south of the Rusty Scupper restaurant.  Rash Field will be used for active recreation.  The beach volley ball courts will be retained and consolidated in a location closer to the waterfront.  Since beach volley ball is a warm weather activity, the courts will be replaced by a skating rink in the winter.  A state-of-the-art track and playing field will be installed at Rash Field.  Regular athletic event will be scheduled throughout the year such as downtown office softball and touch football tournaments, South Baltimore soccer league, high school lacrosse games, Ravens football practice session before the start of the season, a special Orioles sponsored workout for Little Leaguers near All-Star Break, Special Olympics, 5 K race starting and ending points, neighborhood boot camp, etc.  A swimming pool could be built at this location, if space allows, as well as a skateboard park.  It may also be possible to bridge Key Highway to connect Rash Field to Federal Hill Park. 
     The West Shore Park and the area adjacent to the Science Center can be refurbished with water and sculpture gardens, a child’s science garden, playgrounds, and softer approaches to the promenade as defined in the Inner Harbor 2.0 plan.

     Pierce’s Park on Pier 5 & 6 will be expanded as a playground for children.  In conjunction with the Columbus Piazza, it will form a continuous park like environment along the north side of Eastern Avenue from President Street to Pier 4 and the gateway to the Inner Harbor from the East.  The lawn of Pier 6 will serve as an overlook for the Inner Harbor when not used as a concert lawn.  Since the lawn will be elevated, this would be ideal location for the “earthwork mound” now called for the West Shore Park in the Inner Harbor 2.0 plan. 

Inner Harbor 2.1 Circulation/Promenade

Inner Harbor Circulation/Promenade
     The promenade at the Inner Harbor not only connects the major Inner Harbor activities and attractions but is in itself a major feature of the Inner Harbor – a place for casual strolls, jogging, early morning bike rides and close interaction with the water and nature.

     As stated in the Inner Harbor 2.0 plan, a revitalized promenade will be greener with less run-off, and more planting beds.  Internal combustion vehicles will be prohibited from the Inner Harbor promenade except for vehicles responding to fire/safety emergencies.  Any vehicles for patrols, minor construction and maintenance, set up for events, deliveries to ships will be electric vehicles.  The main spine of the Inner Harbor will feature similar materials, lighting, furniture, banners, etc.  It would be appropriate to name the promenade in honor of William Donald Schaefer.  The brick walkway running along the harbor from the Rusty Scupper to the Science Center to Harbor Place and to the Pier 4 Power Plant is fairly well defined, however the section that travels underneath the World Trade Center is in need of improvement.  It is not handicapped accessible and is often fenced off from public access.  While security needs of the building are important, allowing public access to the water all along the harbor should not be compromised.  If total access underneath the building is not allowed, the promenade should be built out over the water south of the World Trade Center in order to provide for a continuous waterfront walkway.
     A new dynamic for the main spine of the promenade will be infilling the section of the harbor directly north of the bridge leading to the Pier Four Power Plant.  At this point the main spine of the promenade will go through the current Barnes and Noble space and continue to Pier 5 (where another infill space will be created for more commercial use).  On Pier 5 the main spine of the promenade will travel south past the Columbus Center and continue east along the extension of Eastern Avenue.  At the Jones Falls the main spine of the promenade will run along Pier 6 at the Jones Falls.  A bridge over the Jones Fall will connect the main promenade route to Harbor East and the rest of the 10 mile waterfront promenade from Canton to Locust Point.

     An alternative route for the promenade will be along the west side of the Pier Four Power Plant and the extension of Eastern Avenue to Pier 4.  This alternative route will allow access if the “Baltimore Emporium” space is closed or if this aspect of the plan is not realized.

     A closed circuit for the William Donald Schaefer Waterfront Promenade can be accomplished with a physical bridge crossing (details to follow) or a continuous water shuttle from the Rusty Scupper to the south end of Pier 6.  The water shuttle will be free and distinctive from other water taxi service in color, styling, etc.  For example, awnings of the boat could be the brick red of the promenade.
     Off shoots of the promenade will be walkways along the Piers.  The offshoots will be distinguished from the main promenade by signage, surface materials, flags, furniture, etc.  Areas next the Aquarium or Maritime Center will be distinctive to these attractions.  Also plazas off the promenade will be distinguished from the main spine.  These plazas will include the amphitheater at Harbor Place, Constellation Pier, the Science Center plaza, the Visitor’s Center Plaza at Conway Street, the Sondheim – 9/11 Plaza at the World Trade Center.  Each plaza will feature appropriate signage, banners and furnishings.  Surface materials at the plazas need not be the red brick of the promenade.  The plaza at the Visitor’s Center could be paved in block to create the appearance of a Ouija Board commemorating William Fuld, the Baltimore native and father of “talking boards.”  A three foot high planchette would be available for those who wish to utilize the “world’s largest Ouija board.”  Each plaza will be distinctive and special activities will be encouraged for the plazas. 

     A “speaker’s corner” similar to Hyde Park in London could be established at McKeldin Square.  To add a high-tech component, our speaker’s corner could be linked to other similar places around the country and world with a video screen to allow a free airing of thoughts and ideas through physical and cyber space.  This “Link” could be both an attraction and a means of communication throughout the world.  Through the world wide web, anyone with access to a smart phone or computer could view what is being discussed at the Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Link.

     On the outer edge of the Inner Harbor a multi-use trail (pretty much established as connections to the Jones Falls and Gwynns Falls Trail) will provide a quicker bypass of the promenade for pedestrians, bicyclists, segways, trams, etc. This outer trail should also be marked, signed and distinguished from its surrounding to provide an easily understandable circulation pattern at the Inner Harbor.  A naming opportunity exists for this outer trail. 

Inner Harbor Crossing 2.1

     The Inner Harbor Crossing as proposed in the 2.0 plan and an earlier Greater Baltimore Committee proposal has been praised by many who wish to see a continuous walking circuit from the Inner Harbor promenade, but opposed by others for its high cost, a potential delay in maritime travel through the harbor and visual disruption.  This 2.1 plan explores a modified option for a bicycle/pedestrian bridge at the Inner Harbor, not only to create a continuous circuit along the promenade, but to serve as a flood gate and a potential Inner Harbor attraction.

     Nothing in the Inner Harbor 2.0 plan discusses the impact on the Inner Harbor from flooding and the projected rise of sea level. A 2013 study states, “It is prudent to plan for relative sea-level rise of 2.1 feet by 2050.”

     One method to combat this sea level increase is to build a flood gate near the Inner Harbor.  If the proposed Inner Harbor Crossing could serve as both a flood gate, as well as a pedestrian/bicycle bridge, the expense may be justified.

     In order for the crossing to serve these dual purposes, plus allow for maritime traffic to the Inner Harbor, the design of the crossing needs to be modified from the proposal in the 2.0 plan.  First the crossing is shifted to Pier 6 and the Jones Falls.  The flood gate could prevent flooding both from a general sea level increase as was the case in the Isabel Storm of 2003, as well as increase run off from the Jones Falls.  The design of the crossing would be much closer to the current height of the promenade, since the deck of the crossing would house apparatus for a movable flood barrier. The barrier could be lowered from bridge deck to the harbor floor to seal off the Inner Harbor from flooding.
     The projected bridge/flood gate would be approximately 750 feet in length.  A central bascule portion that could open for maritime traffic would be 200 feet wide, with 275 foot approaches from the south and north.  From the current promenade height the crossing would rise at a grade of 1 foot per 10 feet of length providing a height of 27.5 feet above the current promenade height at the central draw bridge section.  This would allow for many boats including waterfront taxies and the promenade shuttle to travel under the bridge without opening the draw bridge section. 

    Two towers buttressing the draw bridge would also support an upper level bridge 190 feet above sea level (the same height as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Francis Scott Key Bridge) to allow pedestrian traffic to continue at the upper bridge even when the main deck is opened for maritime traffic.  The proposed crossing would be similar to the Tower Bridge of London although it would feature a modern, not Victorian design.  The upper bridge would be accessible via elevators and stairs.  It would have amazing views of the Baltimore Harbor attracting many visitors.  The towers would be lit up at night with a regular colored light and laser show providing another Inner Harbor attraction to be viewed from the promenade.
     If the proposed harbor crossing and flood gate proves to be too expensive or non-feasible, a regular promenade shuttle would complete the promenade circuit.  A virtual “bridge” in the same vicinity could also be created with a water fountain display creating an archway at the Inner Harbor.  Powerful jets can shoot water hundreds of feet into the air from each side of the harbor.  A water/light display could be an alternative attraction to the physical bridge similar to the amazing water fountains WET Design has created at Dubai and other places in the world.  

Light to Calvert Street Connection

Light to Calvert Street Connection at McKeldin Square

The 2.0 plan (above upper right) calls for closing the diagonal connector from Light Street to Calvert Street.  While this opens McKeldin Square to the promenade, it also creates some problems.  Light Street would be widened south of Pratt creating an extremely wide intersection to cross east-west.  Vehicular patterns would require constant right turns for north bound Light Street  at Pratt– another potential pedestrian hazard.  Will an improved connection of McKeldin Square to the promenade be worth the cost and traffic disruption?

The 2.1 plan (left) calls for a modified alteration to the intersection:  removal of the exclusive right turn lanes from Light to Pratt Street and a possible reduction in the number of lanes on Light Street to narrow its overall width.  

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pier 5 & 6 Alternatives

     The Inner Harbor 2.0 plan includes several recommendations for Pier 5 & 6 that are inconsistent with appropriate land use, good urban design, encouragement of transportation alternatives, and the retention of maritime heritage.  Objectionable proposals in the Inner Harbor 2.0 plan are:  1) expanding the Pier V Garage; 2) eliminating the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse; and 3) moving the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney to a fenced loading and parking area along the east side of Pier 4.

     This revised Inner Harbor 2.1 plan for Pier 5 & 6 is more consistent with the following Inner Harbor planning principles: 

•   The waterfront should be for people instead of cars.  Above ground and surface parking should be eliminated from the waterfront  as much as practical.

•   Plans for the Inner Harbor should emphasize transportation alternatives instead of additional parking.

•   Pier 5 & 6 is the entryway to the Inner Harbor from the east.  A well coordinated design should provide a line of comparably sized buildings and connected open space to create an appropriate entryway to Baltimore’s “crown jewel.”

•   Non-pervious surfaces should be reduced eliminating rainwater runoff into the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay.  Efforts should be made to create a sustainable environment and encourage renewable energy.

•   The maritime heritage of Baltimore and the Inner Harbor should be enhanced at this location not diminished.

The following recommendations are proposed in this Inner Harbor 2.1 plan:

1.   The Pier 6 Pavilion dates from 1991 and has surpassed its 20 year guarantee.  A new pavilion will be built closer to Eastern Avenue retaining a line of relatively small scale buildings on the south side of Eastern Avenue from the Aquarium on Pier 4 to the Pumping Station at President Street to create a more uniform gateway to the Inner Harbor from the east.

2.   The Pier 5 Hotel circular entry drive will be scaled down comparable in size to the Marriott Waterfront entryway.  A tensile canopy will unify its design with the Columbus Center and Pier 6 Pavilion. 

3.   Pierce’s Park will be expanded along the north side of Eastern Avenue to create a continuous park from Pier 5 to the Columbus Piazza on President Street.  A two lane drive will be retained to provide access to the Pier V Garage. The garage, which is rarely occupied to capacity, will accommodate the 180 parking spaces in the current surface lots south of  the garage and north of the pavilion.  Overflow parking can be directed to nearby parking garages holding approximately 4200 parking spaces.

4.   The drive along the west side of Pier 5 to the hotel will be eliminated and replaced with planting and a bicycle lane to reduce run-off along the pier and provide direct bike access to attractions on Pier 5 & 6.

5.   The Pier 6 Pavilion lawn will be enlarged within a brick promenade.  It will be open to the public during hours when concerts are not taking place.  This lawn will be available for general recreation, special events and large outdoor weddings (receptions could take place at nearby hotels).  A potentially expanded lawn could also include an earthwork mound identified for West Shore Park in the 2.0 plan.

6.   The Pier 6 Pavilion lawn will be connected to Harbor East by a new bridge at the south end of the pier.  If the proposed Inner Harbor crossing pedestrian and bike bridge is built, it could connect Rash Field to the Pier 6 Pavilion lawn instead of Pier 5.

7.   The brick landscaped loading area east of the Pier 5 Hotel will be expanded to accommodate loading for the Pier 6 Pavilion for performer busses, etc.

8.   Part of the slips between Pier 3 and Pier 4  and Pier 4 and Pier 5 will be filled in for retail development creating a water line and usage consistent with Harborplace.  The Barnes & Noble space within the Power Plant will be an extension of the promenade housing a festival market place of local products – the Baltimore Emporium.  Barnes & Noble can be relocated to the former Best Buy space across Pratt Street.  The asphalt parking/loading area on the east side of Pier 4 will be bricked in keeping with the Inner Harbor promenade.  Eliminated parking spaces will be accommodated in the Pier V Garage.  The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney will be moved just to the south as part of a maritime heritage center (see 10 below).

9.   The Columbus Piazza opposite Pier 6 will be landscaped increasing pervious surfaces in keeping with Pierce’s Park and open space along the northern side of Eastern Avenue.

10. The Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse will be retained at its present location as the headquarters of historic ships in the Inner Harbor.  It will not be replaced by a Ferris wheel.  Instead, other historic vessels  (including the Submarine Torsk and Chesapeake Lightship) will be relocated  to the vicinity of the Lighthouse reinforcing Pier 5 & 6 as the center of the Inner Harbor’s maritime heritage.

11. Solar panels eliminated from the Maryland Science Center’s surface parking lot canopy across the harbor will be relocated to the roof of the Pier V Garage.  The garage will also include charging stations for electric vehicles promoting alternative energy at the Inner Harbor.